Nature's Greatest Hits -- Volume 1
Listen to Alex Chadwick's interview.
CD Captures Intriguing World of Animal Communication
Hear and see some of the animals featured in the CD.
Dec. 24, 2001 -- Tucked away in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a library containing 150,000 recordings of the planet
's animals, such as the roar of the red howler monkey, the "meows" of Franquet's epauletted bat, and the foghorn-like drone of the midshipman fish. For 75 years, Cornell researchers have gathered recordings of individual animal calls. After a rave response during a private sampling at an ornithology conference, they've gone public. For Morning Edition, NPR's Alex Chadwick interviews John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The new CD, The Diversity of Animal Sounds, is a 62-track collection of some of nature's most interesting animal songs and calls. Alongside old favorites -- lions, monkeys, elephants and whales -- are the sounds of some of the rarer and, in a few cases, extinct animals.
The last recording on the audio guide is the mating call of the Hawaiian Kauai oo. It's a remarkable bird sound, says Fitzpatrick, and a poignant story. Once common among the Hawaiian islands, the bird was less than a decade away from extinction by the 1970s when the recording was made.
On the final cut of the CD, a male Kauai oo sends out a series of mating calls, and then waits for a response. He never hears one. Once you know what the sounds are, and what's behind it, says Fitzpatrick, "you realize how much birds communicate to us about the importance of protecting the last remnants of the great wild landscapes of the Earth."
"The sounds are spectacularly diverse, and in many cases very bizarre. But they are so rich with information. We're just at the edge of understanding."
John Fitzpatrick, Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The CD comes with a booklet that puts each sound in its behavioral context, for instance, telling whether the sound is a mating call, or a territorial call warning competitors to clear out.
Researchers view the library's holdings -- the largest collection of animal sounds in the world -- as a window into how nature works and evolves.
"The sounds of nature are some of the most powerful pieces of information there are," says Fitzpatrick. "We can understand a lot about how animals relate to each other, what they're actually doing in terms of their social behavior with one another, how social behavior works, how social interactions function. We're actually in very many ways cracking the codes that are behind all of the communication that these animals are doing."
The Cornell lab researchers hope the animal sounds will lure the rest of the world into listening more to the natural world around them and inspire people to learn more about how animals communicate.
"The sounds are spectacularly diverse, and in many cases very bizarre," says Fitzpatrick. "But they are so rich with information. We're just at the edge of understanding."
Learn more about the CD and the lab's research at its Web site, birds.cornell.edu.
More NPR Coverage on the Animal Kingdom
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The number of cheetahs in the African wilderness has dwindled
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Though whales now populate Earth's oceans, their ancestors
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